Thursday, October 15, 2015

Caramel Apple Pie

So I've been staring at this recipe for 30 minutes now and I can't think of anything to write to convince you that you should try this... except that it's warm, cinnamon-y apple pie, amazing caramel sauce, and a crumble topping.  Seriously.  Need I say more?  Enjoy!

Caramel Apple Pie
Use this recipe for quick and amazing Homemade Caramel Sauce, and take this pie to the next level!
  • 9-inch pie crust
  • Apples (4 Granny Smith, 2 Pink Lady, Gala, or other apple of choice)
  • 1/3 c dark brown sugar
  • 1/3 c white sugar
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp cloves
  • Lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup caramel sauce
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup old fashioned oats
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped pecans
  • 1/3 cup melted butter
Peel and slice the apples very thin - about 1/4 inch.  Place in a bowl and cover with cold water and lemon juice while you prep the rest of the ingredients.

In a large bowl, combine the sugars, flour, and spices.  Mix well and mash out any lumps caused by the brown sugar.  Drain the apples and add to the sugar mixture.  Toss well to coat.

Preheat oven to 425.  Roll out pie crust and place into the pie pan.  Spread the 1/4 cup of caramel sauce over the crust.  Pour in apples and any juice left over in the bowl.

For the topping, combine the flour, brown sugar, salt, and cinnamon.  Again, mash out any lumps from the brown sugar.  Stir in the oats.  Melt the butter and stir in until everything is combined.  Set aside.

Bake at 425 until the crust begins to brown - about 15 minutes.  Take the pie out of the oven (yes, I know that seems like a weird step, but just trust me on this one) and sprinkle topping over the apples.  Make sure any open spaces are covered.

Reduce the heat to 350 and continue baking for about 60 minutes, until the crust is cooked through and browned on the bottom, and apples are soft enough for your liking. Tent with aluminum foil if the crust or topping is getting too dark.

Immediately after removing from the oven, drizzle 1/4 cup of the remaining caramel sauce over the pie, so it can melt into the topping.  Allow the pie cool at least 1 hr.  The filling needs to set up so it doesn't turn into apple soup when you cut into it.  When completely cool, drizzle the remaining 1/4 cup of caramel sauce over the top.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Easy 5 Ingredient Caramel Sauce

It's September and Fall is in the air!  We've even had a few days that cooled off enough to feel fall-like here in CA!  (Ok, so I'm pretty sure there were only two of them, but they totally count!)

My friend Lisa brought treats to a church activity recently. She is a wiz in the kitchen, so I wasn't surprised to find out that the most amazing homemade caramel sauce I have ever tasted was hers. She told me how easy it was and shared her recipe...and said I can share it with you! Hooray! 

So to kick off my fall baking, this Homemade Caramel Sauce seemed like the perfect thing.  It's something simple that you can add to pretty much any of your other fall baking to make it even more amazing. Think of the possibilities!

No, really. You should think about it. Or maybe do an image search for "caramel desserts." Actually, don't do that. That's way too dangerous! Of course, you have the classic apple slices dipped in caramel (or other snack foods... graham crackers, pretzel sticks, marshmallows, fingers...). You could add it to hot apple cider, or hot chocolate, or really any other hot drink that it'll melt into. Drizzle it over plain vanilla ice cream, or add a few sliced bananas for a real treat! Caramel brownies, caramel cake, caramel frosting, caramel cheesecake, caramel ice cream, caramel puddings, caramel shortbread cookies, caramel rice crispy treats, caramel apple pie.  I could go on all day! That caramel apple pie though... Yeah- I'll be posting a recipe for that next week! Yay! :) 

I's easy to get distracted here, thinking about caramel.  However, you can't do any of this without the caramel sauce first!  And so, on to the recipe!

Homemade Caramel Sauce
  • 1/2 c salted butter
  • 1 c dark brown sugar
  • 3/4 c heavy whipping cream
  • Pinch kosher salt (ok, so my "pinch" was definitely more like 1/2 tsp)
  • 1 tsp vanilla 
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium to medium-low heat.  Stir in the sugar and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes.

Add in the whipping cream and cook another 2 minutes.  The mixture will have some nice slow bubbles going. If it starts bubbling up and getting too frothy, turn the heat down.

Remove from heat and stir in the salt and vanilla extract. Pour into a glass jar and keep in the fridge for up to a month. (Ha! We all know this is going to get eaten up way faster than one month! Really though, be careful trying it with a spoon! :) )

Monday, July 20, 2015

Guest Room Reveal

It's taken a little while to get pictures up, but it's done! The guest bedroom I was working on is finished, and has even passed the "guest test" twice! ...And I have pictures for you!  :)

I really enjoyed working on this room, tying to create the right balance between calm, serene, and cozy; while providing all the amenities necessary to make staying in this room a wonderful experience. 

Be sure to check out this post for tips on how to make your own guest space more comfortable and inviting!

Monday, June 8, 2015

A Complete Guide to Creating the ULTIMATE Guest Room

(Warning: This is a long post! Bear with me because there's lots of great info here.)

Have you ever been staying in someone else's home and realized that you forgot of those really important things that you absolutely need (like your toothbrush!)...and you have to make a late-night run to the store to pick up whatever it was that you forgot? Or awaken early (or sat up late) and found yourself absolutely starving, but there's no one else up and you don't want to go raid the kitchen? Or maybe you found yourself having to borrow a piece of paper from your host, just so you can leave them a thank you note.

This seems to be a regular occurrence for me. Almost without fail, I forget to bring my makeup remover whenever I'm staying somewhere for just a few nights. And as for snacks,  having kids has taught me to keep a granola bar in my purse, just in case.  : )

I've recently been working on a guest bedroom, and had the chance to address these issues, and so many other things to give you a well-stocked guest room so you can be perfectly prepared.  With all these amenities though, you might have a hard time getting your guests to leave!  

This is a pretty solid run-down of what I included in this guest room.

  • I put together a little amenities basket - things your guests may have forgotten, or just might appreciate having access too, as well as a snack basket (see details below).  Both of these are placed on a darling little bar cart, which can be rolled out of the way if necessary. 
  • Amazingly soft, 600 thread-count sheets.  You can easily save money on other things in the room, so go ahead and splurge a little on nice, good quality and high thread count sheets (do this in your own bedroom too!).  This is what your guest sleep between/have right up against their body, so you want it to be nice.  Good sheets will last a long time too!
  • Find some nice, fluffy towels and designate them as your guest towels.  That way you can't be caught off guard without a clean set of towels for your guests.  You can choose a color that goes along with your bathroom or guest room decor, though I like to stick with white.  It's easier to clean and bleach if necessary.  A colored towel may fade over time, and if you have to buy new ones, you run the risk of having the new towels not matching the old, or just not finding the original color all together.  
  • Open up the closet, and you'll find space cleared out for guests to hang anything that might be necessary, nice wooden hangers, and a big fluffy robe and pair of slippers.  The robe and slippers can be easily washed between guests and stored in the back of the closet when not in use.  I can't tell you how many times I've wished for a robe to throw over my pj's, especially on early mornings or in a full house!
  • The nightstands contain an alarm clock, a few one or two-person games (in this case I included two decks of cards - a bridge set actually, since they were so pretty, and a cribbage board), and some books.  These titles may include, classic literature, something from the most recent best-seller list, and/or some of my personal favorites.  I'm a reader myself, and I love to start books when I'm visiting people, but I don't always manage to finish before I have to leave, so it's a nice touch to include copies of books that you're not attached to, so your guest can take a half-finished book with them without feeling like they have to return it asap.  (Your local thrift store should have all kinds of great titles for cheap!)  If there's room on a lower shelf/in a drawer, you could also include a few magazines.
  • Pen and paper - A cute notepad, or some fun personalized stationary and a pen or two is a great touch.  Your guests can use it for whatever they an eloquently crafted letter of thanks to you for setting up such an amazing guest room!  :)
  • It's also important to leave space!  Remember that your guests will be bringing things with them, so leave room on the nightstands and dresser top for their stuff as well.  The room won't feel cozy or even complete if you leave these surfaces completely bare, but try not to cover every square inch.  Follow the rule of thirds, and decorate 1/3 of your horizontal/table top space and leave the other 2/3 clear.  While you're clearing things off, make sure there are a few easy-to-access outlets.  We all love our technology, and it's nice to leave a place for guests to recharge. If all your outlets are hidden behind furniture, it never hurts to have an extension cord plugged in and accessible.
  • If you have the space, a stool or chair gives your guests a place to set their suitcases while unpacking, as well as a place to sit down.  

Toiletries Basket
You never know what you’re going to forget when you’re traveling, and these are some of the things you don’t want to be caught without.  It’s also easy to cater to your guests' specific needs.  (For example, I might not keep contact solution and a case in here all the time, but if I know the person who’s visiting wears contacts, I might throw in a little travel-sized set.)

What I included here:
  • Puffs plus Tissues
Travel-sized versions of:
  • Shampoo
  • Conditioner
  • Body wash
  • Hairspray
  • Lotion
  • Downy wrinkle release spray
  • Lint roller
  • All-natural makeup removal wipes
  • Disposable razors
  • Shaving cream
  • Advil/pain killers
  • First aid kit
  • Toothbrushes
  • Toothpaste
  • Dental floss
  • Mouthwash
  • Chapstick

Some other things you might add:

  • Contact solution and case
  • Hair ties and bobby pins
  • Feminine hygiene products

Snack Basket – I like to include something that can be packed in a bag and taken along on a day trip if necessary

  • Freshly washed Apples (the ones in the picture are Honeycrisp)
  • Granola bars
  • Trail mix
  • A selection of still and sparkling water (smart water and San Pellegrino here)

Separate Tray - I kept these things on a tray separate from the snacks, mainly because I didn't have enough room for everything on my "guest cart." If you have the room, these could be combined with the snacks.  

  • Ghirardelli Chocolates (a yummy little treat - chocolate is usually my favorite - is a nice touch, and since Ghirardelli is relatively local, I thought that was fun.)
  • Pretty water glasses
  • Water carafe (depending on where you put this, you could fill it with ice water right before your guests arrive)
  • Coasters

*A note on the snacks - If there is a local/regional specialty in the snack department (chocolate, pastries, candies, etc.) this would be a fun thing to include in your snack basket for out-of-town guests.

Whew!  I know that was long, but you made it!  I'd love hear how you've decorated your guest room!  Share in the comments section below!

Friday, May 8, 2015

Best Ever Carrot Cake and my little sister's wedding

So, my little sister got married last weekend and guess who was in charge of making the wedding cake?  Yep - yours truly!  She requested a carrot cake and really, I would just go with my very favorite, and seriously amazing, carrot cake recipe, but there's just one tiny problem.  It has pecans on top, and they really just seem to make the cake. It's just not the same without the nuts!  I didn't think my sister would really be happy with the idea of having chopped nuts all over her wedding cake, so I had to come up with something different.  Instead of putting the nuts on top, I included them in a coconut cream cheese filling.  I also gave the cake a bit of a coconut boost by substituting coconut oil for the vegetable oil in the original recipe. This lessens the carrot flavor a little bit, but makes a nice blend of the carrot and coconut instead.

I absolutely love the cake with this filling!  I've been in love with my carrot cake recipe for a long time and wasn't looking to improve it, but I think that I'm going to have to start making it with this filling from now on!

This recipe makes about 6 cups of batter.  I used it for a 6-inch 3-layer cake.  You can also make a 9-inch 2-layer cake.

Best Ever Carrot Cake

For a more intense coconut flavor, try using coconut oil and coconut extract.
  • 2 c all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 c sugar
  • 1 1/4 c cooking oil/coconut oil
  • 4 large eggs (at room temperature)
  • 1/2 tsp coconut extract (optional)
  • 3 c finely shredded carrots
  • 1/2 c shredded coconut
  • Cream Cheese Filling (see below)
  • Cream Cheese Frosting (see below)

Preheat oven to 350.  Grease three 6-inch cake pans and line the bottom with waxed/parchment paper.  Grease the paper as well.

Whisk flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger in medium bowl to blend.  (*Note: if using coconut oil, gently heat until almost melted, stir, and let cool a little bit.  You don't want it so hot that it melts all of the sugar.)  In a separate bowl, mix oil and sugar until well blended.  Add the eggs one at a time and mix until well combined.  Add the coconut extract now if you're using it.  Mix in the dry ingredients.  Stir in carrots and coconut.

Divide batter between pans - about 2 cups in each.  Bake layers for 45 minutes each, or until a tester comes out clean.  Cool cakes in pans 15 minutes.  Turn out onto racks, peel off paper and cool cakes completely.

Frost cake using the Cream Cheese Filling between each layer, and Cream Cheese Frosting on top/around the sides. (*I didn't quite use all of the filling on the cake.  If you have leftovers too, use it up in between graham crackers, or maybe just with a spoon!)  Be sure to do a thin crumb coat of frost on the outside and let it set before frosting the cake completely.  That way you won't end up with cake crumbs throughout your frosting!

Coconut Cream Cheese Filling
  • 8 oz cream cheese
  • 1/4 c butter
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 c powdered sugar
  • 2/3 c chopped pecans
  • 1 c shredded coconut
Cream together the cream cheese and butter.  Mix in the vanilla and powdered sugar until well combined.

Cream Cheese Frosting 
  • 6 oz. cream cheese (room temperature)
  • 6 Tbsp salted butter (room temperature)
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
Blend cream cheese and butter together until well combined.  Add vanilla.  Mix in powdered sugar until everything is incorporated.  (If you find that it's too thick, add about 1 tsp milk at a time until you get it where you want it.)

(Photo credit for the wedding cake goes to Amelinda Olson.  Thanks!)

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